Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Favorite Movies of 2008

I should start with one of my long winded apologies about not posting for a couple of weeks, but it seemed like none of the blogs I read were posting after December 20th.   Much like the streets and highways during the holiday season, the cyber highway was also pretty slow.   Even people that usually post every day were down to once a week.   

That said, I've had lots of ideas for year end posts that I never got to because of family obligations, out of town friends, and general malaise.   I hope everyone had a happy end of the year… 2009!  Argh every year seems more like I'm in a science fiction story.   2010 will be almost unbearable.   I say let's start a petition to put it off another year.   

Anyhoo… I've been a Netflix subscriber since October of 2000… Back in the day when I had to wait four days for my movies as there was only one hub in San Diego; back when my mailman stole every other one; back when the sleeves were a slippery plastic.    I had first heard about Netflix at a dinner party.  My friend Patrick talked about this movie subscription service where you got a movie and when you watched it and sent it back you got another one.   Impossible… what?  No it couldn't be…  I purchased my first DVD player a little while later and began an insane journey into film and TV series watching.  My first DVD was Sex and the City followed by the Judy Garland Show.   Hello Mary…!!!  Four years ago I upped my movies out quota to 8, cut off my cable and exclusively watch nothing but DVDs.   

For a completest like myself it's been a blessing and a curse.  I've watched all of Six Feet Under, X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel… currently I'm plowing through the Doris Day Shows and the Naked City.   As my friend Sally once said, "Lord save me from the completest".  

This year I watched over 250 DVDs… about five a week… At times it feels like I have movie watching homework.  Right now I should be watching Love Story, but I thought I'd better pound out a post instead. One of my favorite features of the system is the ability to write a mini 300 characters review about the movies I've watched and send it to my Netflix friends.   I thought I'd modify that structure a bit and give you my 10 favorite Netflix movies of 2008. 

10.  Portrait in Black:  This year I had a renewed interest in Lana Turner movies (Postman Always Rings Twice, The Big Cube, Imitation of Life) but this one really made my camp bone tingle.  Not to give too much away but Lana Turner and Anthony Quinn kill Lana's dying husband and most of the movie is wondering how they are going to get away with it.  Sort of Colombo but with more Edith Head dresses.   I just love these outlandish melodramas with lush scenery, over the top performances, and insane twisty plotlines.   And you ain't seen nothing until you seen Lana try to drive down the Pacific Coast highway, in a rainstorm, a dead body in the back seat, all while wearing a black dress bedazzled with rhinestones, and after she tells Quinn, "I don't know how to drive"... Hilarity ensues. 

9. The Host:  I loves me some big monster movie.  And this one took me completely by surprise.  
Funny, scary, and punch you in your gut emotional.  This Korean made film tells the story of a down and out lakeside vendor and his family as they battle a toxic sludge made monster.  It sounds pretty standard, but I was laughing one moment and holding back the tears the next.   Note: If you do get this, don't watch the dubbed version, go for the original with subtitles.  The dubbing is awful; I almost turned it off when I started to watch it the first time around. 

8. Killer Bait
I already wrote a post about this film.  See HERE.  However this was my year to do a Noir festival, The Big Heat, Naked City, Black Angel, Strange Impersonation, The Dark Corner, The Big Combo are all worth seeing.   What makes Killer Bait stand out is that it's so undiscovered.  Awful print, terrible sound, but Lizbeth Scott's performance just leaps out and pulls your hair out of its roots.  

7. Imitation of Life:  Amazing that two Lana Turner movies made my list, and more amazing that this film snuck by me for so many years.  This Summer my pals at Hell in a Handbag, put on a staged reading of a homage to this film at Hamburger Mary's called L'IMITATION OF LIFE.  Ed Jones' hilarious portrayal of Lana was spot on, and creative director David Cerda told me afterwards that most of the script was straight from the movie, the lines were so funny.   Such as when Lana tells her black maid/friend "I never thought of you as having friends…"    I put it at the top of my list.  I was expecting another camp fest, but the great Douglas Sirk once again took schlock and made it into art.  True there are campy parts, but it uses the melodrama format to punch home the message of the racial problems of the 50's.  The ending will leave you speechless and in tears.   Ironically I watched this instead of watching Obama accept the Democratic nomination. 

6. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer:  I read the book years ago and remembered nothing about it except I read it in about two days and loved it.   I recall when this movie first came out critics said it wasn't as good as the book, the book was impossible to film, etc… Maybe they should have waited a few years between reading it and watching it because I thought the film was brilliant.   The story of a man born seemingly without a soul but the ability to detect the slightest smell.  Seems like an odd subject matter for a film, but rarely have I been horrified and titillated at the same time.  Erotic in the best sense of the word.  And lushly beautiful. 

5. Tess of the Storm Country:  This year I've been watching a lot of Mary Pickford movies.   Poor little Mary Pickford… but if you haven't seen one then you are missing out on a major part of film history and some amazing films.   Mary was America's number one star and her films show why.  They are so well crafted that I can see them being watched 500 years in the future and they would still be understood.   Mary always plays the underdog, be it in modern times like in My Best Girl or as a street urchin like in Suds.  I picked Tess of the Storm Country not because it was the best of the films, but it was the one that I will remember forever.   It's a simple story of rich evil people trying to bring down the poor but hard working people.  Mary plays a simple girl who falls in love with the rich man's son, is betrayed and of course resurrected.   It's so extremely overplayed, over dramatized, over everything.  But soon I was caught up in the drama I was clutching my handkerchief rooting for poor Mary to win in the face of adversity.   It's simply a movie that has to be seen to be believed. A four hanky as my mother would say…  


4. Mephisto Waltz:   This is probably the only time I will ever say this, but Alan Alda was pretty sexy in the day. As those who know me know, I love TV movies.  This movie plays out with the same pace as a TV movie, but with big screen cash behind it.   It's a lovely 70's tale of devil worship and music.  Soul transference and I understand now why every man was in love with Jacqueline Bissett.    Plot: A aging brilliant pianist wants to take over the body of a young man to continue his career.   Reason to watch: A party filled with worshipers of wine and the devil and a dog wearing a William Shatner mask.

3. Brief Encounter:  Again, another movie that I can't believe I'd never seen.  Noel Coward's urban and sophisticated dialogue brings to mind how terrible screenwriting has become these days.   A short film about two people brought together out of ordinary circumstance and torn apart by their honor.   Just a simple, honest and unforgettable film. 

2. Hangover Square:  The great Laird Creger's swan song as a man who goes mad when he hears dissident notes plays like a great opera; An amazing score by Bernard Herrmann whose music makes this film.  Cregar was a giant of a man with the softest eyes in the world.    Linda Darnell plays a bitchy dance hall queen who almost steals the movie.  Reminded me of a combination of the best of Hitchcock and Welles.  Another classic film that should get much more notoriety that I've seen it have. 1. Off the Menu: The Last Days of Chasens:  My favorite film of the year is this small documentary about the end of days for an L.A. restaurant.   Neatly paced with some lovely film portraits of the people that worked there for over 30 years, lots of stories about the where the elite went to eat.  Wonderful testament about the power our jobs have over our lives and how our lives affect others, even if it's just making sure they have a nice dinner.  I laughed, I cried, I really wanted to taste their chili.

Coming soon: My much funnier post on the worst movies I've seen this year… 

Peace… 

7 comments:

Mike Lynch said...

I really enjoyed your post and now plan on watching some of these. I feel a bit ashamed I never watched a whole Mary Pickford movie.

Happy New Tear, Johnny. Looking forward to your list of "worsts."

Linda said...

Happy New Year, Johnny, and welcome back. Isn't that Barbara Parkins in Mephisto Waltz? I have to rent that DVD. I've seen and enjoyed the Chasen's DVD. We visited the restaurant years ago and, of course, had to have the chili. I even bought the cookbook and have made it with great success. If you try it, you will see why people like it so much. It's almost like a chili stew. The recipe at this link is from the cookbook. http://whatscookingamerica.net/Soup/ChasenChili.htm

David said...

I got Killer Bait per your instructions and love Lizabeth Scott too. She looks much better in later color films.

Anonymous said...

Great list, Johnny. Imitation is dare I say, in my top 5, and they did a great job with an odd book: Perfume. Cant wait to see Chasens. Did you see Moliere? One of my faves last year.
BC

Aaron said...

Since I haven't been here in weeks, it seems...!

These all look terrific--Laird Cregar was vastly underrated, and Linda Darnell was amazing. Too bad about that fire in Glenview...

Johnny C said...

Thanks Linda... I'm such a bad cook I would not dare to make the chili myself... but I've thrown it down to some friends to try it...

krissy said...

Hello, Just caught up with your blog. I am excited to see that Off the Menu film. Just added it to my netflix.

I started a new blog just for my old papers and postcard collection. Stop by if you can: http://thecedarchestblog.blogspot.com/